Wisconsin: Democracy In The Gap: Between Impatience And Incompetence

Most CTVotersCount readers have been reading various stories of the recent Wisconsin election, for example <here> or <here>

Overall the situation points out the weak underbelly of elections in many of our states, including Wisconsin and Connecticut. There is little reason to have confidence in the accuracy of election results reported on election night and marginally little additional reason to trust the certified results which usually conform closely to the original reported results.

The underlying causes are our media fueled goal to get results immediately from tired officials, regardless of their accuracy; followed by officials wish to get it over-with, avoiding any any questions of accuracy or if every vote was in fact counted;  playing a role is the lack of public attention and budget necessary for trusted, accurate elections; and the initially apparent winner claiming victory along with the real or imagined risks to the initial looser in being labeled a sore looser. We are aware that many Republicans continue claiming irregularities in the Minnesota 2008 recount while they accuse Democrats of not getting over Florida in 2000.

I agree and caution those that are calling for a complete recount in Wisconsin:

  • A thorough recount may expose the weak underbelly of the system in Wisconsin. It may show many small errors; uncounted votes; inappropriately adjudicated absentee ballots; slight changes due to machines and people missing voters’ intent; and even uncover some system flaws like those found in Humboldt County and in Ohio in after the 2008 election.
  • Democrats should not get their hopes up unless they find additional suspicious results in other precincts and counties. Chances are that a recount would uncover many small differences but unlikely that they would add up to enough to overturn an election. Everyone should avoid pushing unfounded or highly speculative theories.
  • The best outcome of a recount would be to determine the correct winner of the election, leading to an improved system in Wisconsin, and serving as an example to other states. A transparent, credible recount of integrity would serve to provide confidence in this one election to the ultimate looser and the majority of voters in Wisconsin. I expect it would uncover additional problems with the system beyond the “lone wolf” spreadsheet accounting in one county which could lead to an improved system. Admittedly this is an optimistic view, yet there are often at least positive incremental improvements after election vulnerabilities are discovered, with unfortunately the risk of expensive, knee-jerk reactions of questionable impact (see 2000, HAVA, vendor “help”).

Waukesha County, Wisconsin vs. Bridgeport Connecticut

  • Connecticut has little to offer Wisconsin as an example of accurate accounting. We do have some “lone wolfs” that use spreadsheet accounting, but many others use the old fashioned system of human transcription and accounting. As one Representative characterized our election system, it is a bit of the “Wild West”. In general, by hand or spreadsheet it is a three step process of manual transcription and accounting with a record of errors and omissions.
  • We have no idea what a recanvass would show in a statewide Connecticut Election. In the recent race for Governor we understand that about eight towns (nobody knows, there was no requirement to report it) ran out of preprinted ballots and produced copied ballots that would be counted by hand. At least two of those ran out of ballots in polling places. The state recounted none of those towns.  The Connecticut Post newspaper and citizens recounted one of those towns demonstrating extensive counting and accounting errors along with wide discrepancies in ballot counts vs. check-off lists. Ten percent of districts were subject to post-election audits of district machine counted audits. No official report is yet available, however, the Coalition audit observation report demonstrated the usual level of significant differences that indicate inaccurate counting and the possibility of machine errors. The audits do not check hand counted ballots or centrally counted absentee ballots. As far as we know, five towns have yet to supply official audit report to the Secretary of the State for the audits which would have been completed by November 22nd 2010.
  • Connecticut has little to offer Wisconsin in the area of recounting. Like Wisconsin, our recanvasses are primarily a modified recount by similar machines and memory cards. Unlike Wisconsin, we have no provision in our recanvasses for our adjusting vote counts if check-off lists counts do not match.  In fact, Connecticut recanvass do not check check-off lists.  Recounts in Connecticut are possible via a court order. Procedures are not defined in our state law.

We also recommend that citizens of Wisconsin with concerns under take a thorough review of all posted results and confirm election documents to uncover any other potential specific questionable counts. To his credit, the well supported and financed losing candidate in Connecticut in November 2010 did that to satisfy himself that the result was accurate enough to select the actual winner.

We also note that the Connecticut Legislature and Secretary of the State are proposing steps that would reduce the possibility of similar ballot shortages in the future, yet we have much more work to provide election integrity and credibility equal to the promise of democracy.

Let us take no comfort in the election error in Wisconsin.  Let us hope that something good comes from the concerns.

Update. More reasons to Investigate:

Worth checking the source of numbers reported and the accounting details. Alleged history of some questionable results in the county: 20,000 more votes than ballots (Waukesha, 2006) <read> <read>

Also Democrat refutes earlier impression that she endorsed/understood revised result <read>

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